BRAMPTON, Ont - The Toronto-area man who took part in a conspiracy to blow up prominent landmarks in the city's downtown told court Tuesday he made "a huge mistake" as his lawyer asked for a two-year prison term for his client.
Saad Khalid, 23, told a Brampton, Ont., courtroom that he accepted responsibility for his role in the domestic terror plot to detonate bombs outside the Toronto Stock Exchange and CSIS headquarters, as well as an unnamed Ontario military base, in 2006.
Dressed in a black suit and pinstriped white shirt, and sporting faint beard growth, Khalid said from the prisoner's box that he wanted people to know his true motives: his "disagreement" with Canada's foreign policy, specifically the country's involvement in Afghanistan.
"I was not motivated by a hate for Canada, Canadians, democracy, or Canadian values of freedom, civil liberties, and women's rights," Khalid read from a prepared speech.
"I realize that this does not justify my actions in any way. But it is important to have my motive known so people understand that I am not a lunatic who is hell-bent on the destruction of Western Civilization."
Khalid was arrested in June 2006 while unloading what he and his fellow alleged conspirators believed was at least two tonnes of ammonium nitrate, according to an uncontested statement of facts entered earlier in his sentencing hearing.
One of the members of the so-called Toronto 18, Khalid pleaded guilty in May to one count of participating in a terror plot with the intention of causing an explosion.
Seven others have since had their charges dropped. The identities of the other members of the small terror cell Khalid belonged to are protected by a publication ban.
Throughout Khalid's sentencing hearing, his lawyer Russell Silverstein has depicted his client as a bit player in the plot who was just doing what he was told and was never a ringleader.
Silverstein repeated that characterization Tuesday, describing his client as "not a guiding voice in this conspiracy (but) more of a gofer than anything else."
The three weeks after Khalid's arrest were "horrific," alleged Silverstein.
Khalid was escorted to the Maplehurst Correctional Complex in Milton, Ont., surrounded by swat teams, helicopters, and officers pointing laser-guided pepper spray weapons at him, he said.
Once he was locked up, Khalid was allegedly routinely strip-searched, woken up by guards every 20 minutes as they checked his cell, and kept in solitary confinement 23 hours a day, said Silverstein.
His lawyer argued Khalid should receive six months' credit for those 21 days of "pure hell." The extra credit for the 39 months Khalid has already spent in pre-trial custody would allow Justice Bruce Durno to knock eight years off of a proposed 10-year penitentiary sentence, said Silverstein, leaving Khalid to spend the next two years behind bars.
Silverstein suggested to Durno that were he to meet Khalid on the street without knowing the nature of his crime, the judge would be very impressed.
"You would say to yourself, 'This is a remarkable, ideal member of our community,"' Silverstein said.
With more than a dozen of his friends and family behind him, Khalid told court how he has been studying Islam "more closely than ever before" and now disavows the use of violence.
He acknowledged he still holds strong political views, adding he wanted to work with other Muslim youth upon his release to help them express their views peacefully.
In an Aug. 20 ruling released to reporters Tuesday, Durno ruled that while Khalid may not have known what the specific targets of the cell's attack were, the former university student must have been "wilfully blind" not to know the group was planning to kill or injure people.
Crown Attorney Croft Michaelson argued that Khalid's blindness to that fact did not reduce his "moral blameworthiness." He called for an 18 to 20 year sentence for Khalid, with five to five-and-a-half years credit for time already served.
Michaelson acknowledged Khalid's supportive, loving family, and accepted that he'd taken steps to shed his repugnant ideas.
But the terrorist plot struck at the "heart of our democratic ideals," said Michaelson, urging Durno that a lengthy period of incarceration would deter others from engaging in similar acts.
"If it had been successful, it would have been the most traumatically serious terrorist attack to have been committed on Canadian soil," said Michaelson.
"We can't lose sight of that."
Khalid is expected to be sentenced on Sept. 3.